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Culture

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cityscape

A Queen Street Workshop Offers Cheap Bike Repairs and DIY Knowledge

The Community Bicycle Network doesn't just fix up your bike, it teaches you to do the fixing yourself.

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Having part of your bicycle break or get stolen is frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be expensive.

At the Community Bicycle Network, you can fix your own flat tire for $10 (versus about $20 in a bike shop), or, as I did, replace your stolen tire for $26 (normally about $100).

The CBN, founded 20 years ago, provides used parts, tools, and supervision, but lets you do the actual repairs. Depending on when you visit, you might catch some smooth jazz, or a good, long discussion about mediation and artistic expression.

The space is located at Queen Street West and Euclid Avenue, on the first floor of an old church. (There’s no storefront, but look for the yellow sign and the bike racks on the sidewalk.) It’s one of a handful of Do-It-Yourself bike shops serving downtown Toronto. Some others are Bike Pirates, Bike Sauce and Bikechain (the latter is partially funded by the University of Toronto, so U of T students should bring their I.D.; if you’re not a student, they suggest you leave a small donation). They, like the CBN, promote affordable, intelligent, and sustainable cycling.

“When people want to know something, they come here,” Jerry Lee Miller says. He’s CBN’s lead—and only—full-time mechanic. On the day I visit, he’s simultaneously supervising, answering questions, and helping people find whatever part or tool they need. (He repeatedly does that thing where he knows someone’s making a mistake without looking. It’s uncanny.) While Jazz.FM91 plays in the background, people rummage, query, and tinker. Jerry glides here, points there, and because he’s also an artist, has a discourse with yours truly on theories of creative expression.

The CBN works as follows: used parts are collected from donated bikes. You can buy them for about $5 a piece. You can rent a repair stand and the use of tools for $12 an hour, or the same plus Jerry’s supervision for $18 an hour. (You can also leave your bike for Jerry to repair, for $60 an hour, but few people do this.)

Jerry says that even a novice can fix a flat tire in fifteen minutes. It took me—an extreme novice—only 45 minutes to replace my entire front wheel.

Parts-wise, the CBN has whatever you need to fix or improve your bike. Along one wall are neatly stacked cartons of brakes and levers, cranks, pedals, handlebars, seats, reflectors, chain rings, and water bottle cages. From the ceiling hang wheels and tires. There’s even a tangle of wires that might help fix your lights, or an odometer.

If Jerry doesn’t have the part you need, he can order it—or, if you’d rather not wait, he can tell you where to go find it. He’ll even let you use the CBN’s phone to call ahead, to make sure the part’s available.

(Speaking of parts, the CBN is always looking for bikes. They’re especially keen to clean out that room in every condo building’s parking garage where abandoned bikes are stored.)

Most of what’s good about DIY cycle repair is obvious: it’s cheaper, fewer bikes end up in landfills, you learn something, you can better evaluate service at bike shops, and your bike will just ride better, which means you’ll both ride more and encourage others to do the same.

But DIY is also, less obviously, a kind of activism: the collaboration that makes all the obvious stuff possible ends up creating, one repair at a time, a real community. “It’s a different kind of experience,” Jerry says. “You come down here and give your time. Paying for parts, that just keeps the lights on and the rent paid.” People who share knowledge also share understanding and come to depend on each other. Practical skills build confidence and reduce the world to a manageable scale.

As warmer weather approaches, Jerry and the CBN remind everyone to keep their bikes clean, chains oiled, and that WD-40 is a cleaner, not a lubricant.

Consider that your first lesson.

CORRECTION: April 2, 3:45PM The post mistakenly referred to Jerry Lee Miller as Jerry Lee Brown. The correction has been made above.
CORRECTION: April 2, 4:15PM The post previously implied that a University of Toronto I.D. was required to access Bikechain, when, in fact, the public is welcome as well, but are encouraged to leave a small donation.

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